Critical misjudgments cost Wallabies famous win
Wallabies hold the All Blacks in 18-18 draw
Burst of speed ... Pat McCabe eludes the New Zealand defence. Photo: Getty Images
One of the tributes at a mate’s 50th on Friday night suggested there was just one glass of wine between him being boring and being interesting – although it wasn’t clear who should be the one to drink the glass.
Not that it was such a choice between boring and interesting on Saturday night, but just one point on the scoreboard, rather than one glass, would have made the world of difference to either the Wallabies or the All Blacks.
Lithuania will breathe easily today as their record of 18 consecutive international victorie remains intact for the 18-all draw in Brisbane was enough to end the All Black’s 14-month, 16-match golden run.
This Wallaby team, while not given much chance in the lead-up, was not outplayed. When you are outmanned, pride will sometimes direct you to look for victories within potential defeat and judge your performance on metrics like courage, commitment and involvement rather than the scoreboard. But that is a haven for losers.
Wallaby pride, rather, was driven to focus on how they could beat their opposite man individually and collectively, which is what they largely did for about 55 per cent of the match.
But the Wallabies shouldn’t get too excited at thwarting the All Black’s shot at the record for it is an ultimately unhappy man that only gets joy from an opponent’s angst.
However, they should take heart from their performance and use it as a building block for growth. They should also take heart from the players who now know that the seemingly widening gap between No. 1 and No. 2 in the world is not unbreachable but now somewhat more reachable.
The hope is that an inexperienced team has just put a stake in the ground. Old hands like Nathan Sharpe and Tatafu Polota-Nau have delivered. But importantly, the new kids on the block like Michael Hooper, Ben Tapuai and Kane Douglas have signed on for a man’s job.
Yet before they can finally bridge that gap they must cut out their unforced errors. Great teams will force mistakes upon you, that’s to be expected, and the All Blacks are a great team. A big tackle, a missed lineout or poor scrum service will all happen when supreme pressure is applied.
What’s not tolerable are the unforced errors; a needless sinbinning, a dropped high ball or a box kick straight into touch. A five-minute period encompassing most of that probably cost the Wallabies the win and almost cost them the match.
The poor five minutes started at the 64-minute mark and it wasn’t just on-field errors. With a lineout five metres from their own line Hooper returned to the field after his sin-binning with Liam Gill and off came Kane Douglas.
These decisions are always subjective but this was questionable on two counts.
One, Douglas had been both belligerent and effective throughout, and two, to replace a key lineout forward on your own throw, on your own line, at such a crucial stage was risky.
The subsequently unsettled Wallaby lineout lost its own throw and the All Blacks soon capitalised through Dan Carter’s boot: 15-all. A few minutes later, after some loose lineout play by the Blacks, Gill showed that, while it mightn’t have been the right time to put him on the field, it was the right move.
From a turnover he carried the ball forward, only to have quality possession box-kicked out on the full by Nick Phipps. Subsequent play saw Adam Ashley-Cooper drop a high ball with no attacker nearby and Phipps, who had no other option, regathering from an offside position: 18-15 to New Zealand.
But to their credit, the Wallabies regrouped and, despite other mishaps, the ever-reliable Mike Harris evened the account. Though there was no further score, the most prominent distinction between these teams was illustrated by the closing frames.
With time up the Wallabies were first with prime position and both Harris and Kurtley Beale as options to kick a field goal to win the match. Neither took command as, rather than take their chance at victory, they tempted the referee to do so for them. He didn’t, and shouldn’t have, for the All Blacks didn’t err.
One minute later and 50 metres north the All Blacks clinically manoeuvred play such that Carter took his shot. He missed, but he wont die wondering. The Wallabies will never know. Just like my mate’s personality, it’s a fine line.